Madam Speaker, as I listen to this debate, I continue to become more upset. Not only is the government stripping these workers of their charter right to strike, it issued notice of its intent, through this expedited legislation, to force workers at the Port of Montreal back to their jobs before they even began their strike. What is worse is that the government continues to fearmonger about COVID-19-related supplies with claims that continue to go unsubstantiated. I would like to address this with a quote from an article by FreightWaves published on August 20, 2020. It states:
The union representing longshore workers at the Port of Montreal agreed on Thursday to move some containers holding goods needed in the fight against COVID-19.
“The Maritime Employers Association and the longshoremen’s union have agreed to move containers that contain controlled substances and COVID-19-related merchandise and to unload a ship containing sugar,” the MEA announced early Thursday afternoon.
I hope this puts an end to the reprehensible nonsense. If there is any issue with important pandemic-related supplies not getting to where they need to go, that is certainly not on the union or the workers. Look to the government or the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
The legislation itself would do the following. It would force the employer and the union to extend their expired collective agreement, prevent the employer from locking out workers and prevent the union from striking.
I would like to provide some context to this bill before I give further remarks. In 2019-20, the Canada Industrial Relations Board heard the employer's application for a determination on essential services. The employer's counsel used every trick in the book to stall things at the CIRB, including a motion for the board chair to recuse herself, and forwarded judicial review applications. After the decision was issued, CUPE Local 375 went on strike for 12 days in August 2020. Workers went back to work after a truce agreement was signed, giving the parties seven months to conclude a deal. The union worked with the federal mediation service all this time. On April 16, the union reviewed its strike mandate with a 99.3% vote.
The union finally offered to end the overtime and weekend strike if the employees reverted to the working conditions applicable before April 9. On April 23, members of the union declared their mandate of an unlimited general strike as the employer did not show it wanted to negotiate in good faith. As we know, the minister then signalled before the general strike started that the government would be tabling legislation to force workers back to work, despite their charter right.
The minister should know, if she is speaking to both sides, that this strike can quickly come to an end without the need for legislation. The union has made it very clear that it would cease all forms of work disruption with one fair request to the employer to stop the pressure tactics and collective agreement violations.
I will read what a CUPE spokesperson had to say:
If the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) doesn’t want a strike, all it has to do is let up on its pressure tactics and the union will do likewise. No overtime strike. No weekend strike. It’s straightforward. We want to return to the bargaining table.... We don’t want to hurt the Montreal economy. However, we do want to exercise our fundamental right to bargain collectively.
The minister, in her speech on Government Business Motion No. 5, said the following:
Our government firmly believes that the best deals are reached at the bargaining table. However, intervention is sometimes necessary when the parties are at a significant and long-standing impasse, particularly when a work stoppage is causing significant harm to Canadians. We cannot allow the situation we saw in August 2020 to repeat itself, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. If the current stoppage continues, serious accumulated and negative impacts will continue to be felt all over Canada.
Again, the minister has not provided any concrete examples or data of the direct, significant benefit to Canadians. She continues to fearmonger without concrete facts. Instead of facts and data, all I am hearing is a bunch of quotes from lobbyists about what they speculate may happen. The only relevant fact that I have heard from the government about the actual effect of the work interruption was related to the August 2020 strike. This is relevant. What happened to those ships and the supplies they were carrying? They simply got diverted to other ports.
I have no doubt, and acknowledge, that this has made for significant changes and complications to supply chains and land transportation of goods, but this is part of what happens in a strike. Given the fact that she is the labour minister, I would expect the minister to be aware of this and instead monitor the situation. Her job is not to say that the sky is going to fall and then give notice that she will revoke the charter rights of workers to strike before their strike even begins.
Back-to-work legislation is known to have lasting, negative effects. When we take away the charter rights of hundreds of people by an act of Parliament and force them back to work like this, it really affects the morale of workers. I know. I have seen it. What it also tends to do is sour the relationship between the employer and the employees.
By way of example, let us look at the track record of back-to-work legislation and providing a swift resolution to drawn-out collective agreement talks. Bill C-89, an act to provide the resumption and continuation of postal services, was passed by this same Liberal government in the House of Commons on November 24, 2018. It received royal assent two days later and came into force at noon on the following day. Here is what representatives of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers had to say about being forced back to work to help resolve the situation a whole year after being back.
Though the legislators who passed the bill may have thought it would resolve the situation, nothing is fixed, no contract is in place, and we’re still working without a new collective agreement, without the right to strike, under the dangerous and unfair conditions that we were trying to deal with in negotiations.
They go on to speak very directly about the overarching problems being suffered due to the nature of back-to-work legislation.
Workers pay the price for back-to-work legislation. CUPW members worked two and a half years without new contracts, with the same old problems we were trying to solve through bargaining back in 2018.
After finally getting a contract, though imposed by an arbitrator some 400 days after the back-to-work legislation, significant issues are still not satisfactory. I suspect these will be part of the next round of bargaining next year. This type of legislation is a way of kicking the can down the road via a still drawn-out process all while taking away the employees' right to collective bargaining.
I think it is important for Canadians listening to know that it is not just Liberal governments that impose the harmful and unfair labour practice of back-to-work legislation. In fact, one could say that the Liberal government learned this tactic from the Harper Conservatives and is carrying on the torch of stripping workers of their charter right to strike. Let us have a look at back-to-work legislation by the Conservatives.
The Conservatives legislated the following groups back to work: the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the United Transportation Union.
Before I end, I do want to raise that the government has still not addressed my concern about a recent development. It is my understanding that there was a proposal put forward last evening to avoid the need for Bill C-29. While I am not privy to all the details of this proposal, I do know the employer, the union and the government were all made aware of the said proposal. This proposal would have involved a return to work, as well as the resumption of the flow of goods.
I am being told it was only the employer that objected to this proposal as a way forward. I think it would be a further injustice and shameful for the government to continue its pursuit of this motion and legislation, given the employer's unwillingness to play ball.
I call on the government to allow the workers to pursue their right to strike.